In my 20 years as a Catholic development professional, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of parish communications plans. However, these plans often become rote or thoughtless. You publish a weekly bulletin because that’s what you’ve always done. You do two mailings a year because, why not? And because parishes have events going on almost every single day it can be easy to fall into a particular trap – almost all your communications include requests.
Parishioners are bombarded with invitations to catechetical events, fundraisers, breakfasts, and volunteer opportunities. And in the face of all those requests, many parishioners freeze like a deer in the headlights. “I can’t possibly go to all of these things,” many think. And so, they don’t go to any of the events at all.
My organization’s national research shows that all nonprofits, but especially churches, should be striving for a good nourishment-to-request ratio, otherwise known as the 8:1 communications rule. To put it another way, your parish should be sharing eight items of good news for every one item requesting assistance. Ignoring this rule of thumb risks making the parish a “needy friend” in the minds of parishioners. (If you’ve ever owned a pickup truck, you know how many needy friends you have! They are always asking something of you.) And no one wants to draw closer to an organization that only reaches out when it needs help!
Nourishing good news includes the following:
- Catechetical resources
- Tips on prayer
- Links to homilies
- Updates on programs or initiatives in progress with an associated request
- Pictures of parish and Catholic school life
- Inspirational messages, such as “You are a child of God!”
- Links to faith-filled resources
- News that makes parishioners proud to be Catholic
- Role models, especially saintly ones
- News of success in a parish ministry or initiative
Requests for assistance include the following:
- Calls for volunteers
- Fundraising notices
- Any event (parish festival, Bible study, etc.) outside of the basic celebration of the sacraments
This week, take a look back through the last six months of your parish communications, including your bulletins, weekly e-newsletters, mailings, and social media posts. When and how are you sharing good news with your parishioners? Go through each item. If there is a request in there, mark it as a request. If it’s just designed to nourish people in their faith journey,
If you aren’t at that 8:1 ratio, how could you improve? First, what ministries or outreach programs are your “best kept secrets,” and how could you shine a spotlight on these important initiatives? (The hard part is shining that spotlight and resisting the urge to ask people to join!)
Next, are you sharing readings of the day, prayer and praise reports, and snippets from the Catechism? These are all “good news” items!
Last, do older people know what’s going on with kids in religious education, and is there a kids’ corner of your bulletin? The list of potential good news items is pretty large, if you just look around at parish life. Just ask yourself, “How do people need to be fed spiritually?”
By keeping this 8:1 communications rule in mind, you can maintain a rhythm of ministry updates, good news, parishioner spotlights, and thank-yous. This will not only help your parishioners advance faithfully and joyfully in the spiritual life, it will also make it so funds and volunteers will be ready when you need them.
Prenger Solutions Group is a specialized Catholic fundraising firm that uses technology to help parishes, schools and dioceses raise more money with fewer headaches. PSG’s fundraising and communications experts have raised more than $450 million for Catholic causes while helping more than 4,000 parishes to engage and inspire their parishioners through social media.